collectives, shops that can take the profit that would go to pay for some
boss's luxury items, and instead use those resources to help start more
collectives. As the network grows in size, it can do more for its
members, and will have a greater ability to shape local affairs. People
seldom work as hard and as happily as when we're working for
ourselves and those close to use, and when the work is a meaningful
expression of our values and politics. We may not be able to change
the world overnight, but we can help each other to change our lives.
In the late 1800s, anarchism was a mainstream political idea among
American workers and progressive activists. Since then, it has been
slandered by association with senseless violence, made to seem idealist
or crankish, pushed to the fringes. In contrast, this pamphlet has tried
to demonstrate that anarchism is especially relevant in our time, both in
guiding us as we formulate our aims, and in bringing us together
around a sound foundational principle, so that we know not only what
we are against, but also what we're fightingyor.
c/o Tom Noerper
Evanston, IL 60204
What are we trying to do here?!
Anarcho-syndicalism and the new anti-capitalism -
suggestions for goals and tactics.
1 . Introduction: Getting our bearings, clarifying our vision.
"How can we ever get anywhere if we don't know where we're trying
to go?" Since anti-globalization activists disrupted the World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle, it has been undeniable that there is a
new anti-capitalist movement taking shape, or at least there is a new
phase of activism. With clear goals and some agreement on strategies
and tactics, our movement may be able to take advantage of the current
moment in history, in which American corporate capitalism has been
so clearly revealed to so many to be morally bankrupt; however, the
history of radical politics in America has been one of factions and
splinter groups, of issue-specific groups reluctant to work together.
The anarchist perspective has a great deal to offer the anti-capitalist
movement, because rather than prescribing specific positions on given
issues, rather than urging a "revolutionary" program to which others
must conform, we espouse the principle of non-coercion, a foundation
principle which should guide all people of conscience in figuring out
what we want for our world, and how ought to go about getting it.
2. Common Sense for the 21 st Century:
The failure of American democracy.
In America, government of the people, by the people, and for the
people has perished. Both Vincent Bugliosi (the lawyer who
prosecuted Charles Manson) and Gregory Pallast (journalist for the
BBC) have published books that explain clearly how the Republican
Party and the U.S. Supreme Court subverted America's electoral
process to put George W. Bush in the Whitehouse. Without even
considering the unsoundness of the Supreme Court decision or the
specifics of election fraud in Florida, anyone can see the contradiction
in the acknowledged fact that Al Gore received more votes, but Bush
became president. Many ordinary people have asked how this could
have happened, in our "democratic" political system. It is our job to
see that the discussion includes an analysis of the realities of power in
In his presidential farewell speech in 1961, Eisenhower warned the
In the councils of government, we must guard against the
acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or
unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for
the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our
liberties or democratic processes.
With Bush, Cheney and most of their cabinet coming from the
corporate boards of petroleum companies, it has never been so clear
5. Getting there, making the best of what's here.
Of course, while there are a few anarchist coops and collectives out
there, this is far from being the dominant paradigm for the American
work place. While this was the basic organization for millions of
Spanish workers for several years during the Spanish Revolution,
anarcho-syndicalism is basically unknown to many anti-capitalist /
anti-globalization activists. Even if the idea were to spread, what can
we do in the meantime? Because of their basis in principle, both
anarchism and syndicalism both a better way of living while still
under capitalism, and strategies for pursuing radical activism.
Last summer (2001) at a Chicago meeting of the Campus Greens, Jello
Biafra (former singer for the band Dead Kemiedys) repeated what
Malcolm X had said, but in the anti-capitalist context. He encouraged
people to avoid buying anything retail whenever possible, and to go to
locally-owned, "mom & pop" businesses when we must do retail
shopping. We would also do well to set up more barter markets and
other types of alternative economy.
Biafra' s second suggestion was that we learn from the "Republican
Revolution" of the 1980s and 1990s, when they were able to gain
control the Congress and of many local administrations. The popular
arm of the Party, the Religious Right, are a small but very active and
very vocal minority in this society. During the Reagan years, they
began taking control of local politics by filling up school boards,
gaining uncontested county jobs, etc., eventually gaining enough
control of local politics to dominate congressional elections. This is
the kind of grassroots political machine that voided tens of thousands
of African Americans' votes in Florida in the presidential election.
Finally, we must ask what kind of work-life we want for ourselves.
For some, it will make the most since to work as a wage-slave in order
to organize others and to affect the capitalist machine. However, our
main strategy should be to establish networks of worker-owned
interested in building power and resources within the Black
community. King's strategy has made achievements, while Malcolm
X's approach has been neglected, perhaps because it threatens to
disrupt the capitalist economy.
4. What do we want? No more bosses, starting today!
If anarchists reject all government as being based on force or the threat
of force, what do we propose? We want a society founded on the
principle of free association, not a social order based on coercion. Who
can deny that our aim should be a society based on the principle of
non-violence? Given the failure of the American republic, we know
that allowing individuals or small groups to accumulate extreme
wealth while others are needy creates a situation of economic necessity
- a form of coercion. Also, if we consider the Soviet revolution even
from Lenin's time, or Chinese communism, we see that communism
without an explicit commitment to anti-authoritarianism collapses into
totalitarianism in a way barely distinguishable from fascism.
Guided by our principles of non-coercion in social-political relations,
and just distribution of resources in economic relations, we might
arrive at anarcho-syndicalism. In syndicalism, the workers own the
shop in which they work. This contrasts with capitalism, and with
communism as we have know it, in which the "Party," - another ruling
elite - controls the means of production and makes all decisions. In
anarcho-syndicalism, each single work site is owned and run by the
people on that site. Various shops and industries are organized into
federations, which share the common interests of feeding, clothing, and
housing themselves. Because there is no possibility of any individual
owning the shop and profiting from the labor of dozens or even
hundreds of other individuals, the influence of self-interest is limited.
The power of any individual or small group is limited because
decision-making and resources are distributed widely across many
that big business runs this country. How did the multi-national
corporations become so powerful in a society supposedly based on the
In an anarchist analysis, we must first consider that a democratic
republic is still a type of government. Every government rules by
force, or the threat of force, whether it be monarchist, fascist,
communist, socialist, or a so-called "democracy." In each case, one
group of people makes the rules and decides how resources will be
allocated. The second group, ordinary people, are compelled to
participate in society according to the rules that have been set; for
instance, through paying taxes or through a military draft. Thus, even
in a democratic republic, a ruling class emerges who tax the public
and then hire police to control that public. From an anarchist
perspective, we reject democracy in principle, even when it is working
according to the ideal. Of course, little in life follows its ideal very
closely. How did American democracy fail in actuality, by its own
When the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, it was influenced by
two main groups. The "Jeffersonians" are usually thought of as having
been concerned with protecting individual liberty from the powers of
government, a view associated with Jefferson's language in the
Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.
The "Hamiltonians," after Alexander Hamilton, are thought of as
wanting to limit taxation, to ensure that America would be a good
place to do business. In their time, neither Hamilton nor Jefferson
could have imagined the power of the trans-national corporation after
the industrial revolution, at the end of the 20 th century. The U.S.
Constitution was intended to preserve a balance of power among
federal government, state government, and individual rights. In this
context the corporation, with its massive concentration of wealth and
resources, makes up a new entity unforeseen in 1787. Given the power
structure institutionalized in the U.S. government, big business has
been able to gain control of the affairs of the nation, defeating the
intent that the government should administer the interests and will of
the greatest number of people.
What is central to this failure is the massive accumulation of wealth by
a small elite. It is this great disparity between the wealthiest Americans
and ordinary people that creates the tremendous power differential.
According to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, this was a
problem in the Athenian democracy, as well.
2. The failure of the left/liberal coalition to save the Republic:
Reformist goals and tactics.
By the second half of the 20 th Century, a liberal / left coalition had
formed in America, somewhat in opposition to the
corporate/conservative elite. This group, made up of trade unionists,
pro-choice feminists, gay and lesbian activists, environmentalists,
ethnic minorities and their advocates has failed to limit the power of
big business and the Right Wing, has failed to hold the American
government close to its democratic principles. What happened?
If we think of the protest movement in the late 1960s, in the Civil
Rights and Anti-War era, it seems that the aim of leaders such as
Martin Luther King, Jr. was to compel the elected leaders to act in
good conscience. Using strategies such as massive rallies and civil
disobedience, activists expressed their intense objection to the
government's policies, with a clearly implied threat about what might
happen to their job in the next election.
The problem with this "reformism" is that it did not change the
underlying power structures that maintained racism and poverty at
home, and imperialist policies abroad. A protest movement is a social
phenomena that does not occur every time it is needed, and so when
no one is looking, the bad guys go back to their dirty business. At best,
even if there is sustained public attention and activism around an
issue, there is still a built-in conflict between the
corporate/conservative elite and the common good.
Built-in conflict is also a fundamental problem with trade unions as
we know them today. Among progressives, a great deal of energy is
spent organizing new union locals and supporting unions in their
"struggle" against management every time a collective bargaining
contract expires. As Marx pointed out, whenever workers labor in a
shop owned by some one else, we lose both the fruit of our labor, and
control over our own lives. Current trade unions assume this horribly
alienated situation without question, while leftist activists afflicted
with "laborism" seem to idealize and romanticize a vision of never-
ending struggle, in which workers are always the slaves of machines
and bosses, always fighting for basic needs such as a "living wage"
and health care. Certainly this describes reality for many ordinary
Americans, and for the actual and virtual slaves in other countries who
produce consumer goods for American markets. But, should this be
3. Doctor King and Malcolm X: Very different approaches.
While Doctor King was organizing massive demonstrations, Malcolm
X was advocating another kind of response to the American power
structure. He saw that people who were neither black nor Harlem
residents would open businesses in Harlem. The money that Black
people spent in these businesses was taken away from the community,
and too many resources flowed out of the community, thus
contributing to poverty among Black people. Malcolm X repeatedly
urged his audiences to spend their money at businesses owned by
members of their own community. Malcolm X was not interested in
lobbying white politicians for better welfare programs; he was